Virginia Republicans Pick Candidate for 2021 Governor’s Race

A businessman beat a 30-year political veteran and a Donald Trump acolyte to cinch the win under a new rank choice voting system in an election involving fewer than 30,000 votes.

Glenn Youngkin makes his closing remarks during a GOP gubernatorial candidate forum hosted by the College Republicans in Lynchburg, Va., on April 19. (Kendall Warner/The New & Advance via AP, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — Virginia Republicans have selected two of their candidates for the first post-Trump statewide election with businessman Glenn Youngkin securing the top of the party’s 2021 ticket Monday night.

“I am prepared to lead, excited to serve and profoundly humbled by the trust the people have placed in me,” Youngkin said on Twitter Monday night. “Virginians have made it clear that they are ready for a political outsider with proven business experience to bring real change in Richmond.” 

A political newcomer and former Carlyle Group executive, Youngkin matched his fellow Republicans on the campaign trail with promises to roll back gun laws, tackle “election integrity” and address perceived issues with use of critical race theory in state schools.

The win comes by way of a concession tweet from Pete Snyder as the sixth round of vote counting began.

A fellow businessman and political newbie, Snyder said he “would have preferred a W” but offered his “100 percent support” to Youngkin and the entire ticket.

Youngkin also beat out long-time Delegate Kirk Cox and state Senator Amanda Chase — a devotee of former President Donald Trump.

His win brings an end to Cox’s 30-year political career after as he announced he wouldn’t run for his Colonial Heights House of Delegates seat.

Fewer than 30,000 votes were counted Monday, about 60% of the nearly 54,000 voters the state party had approved.

Becoming a voter, or delegate, was a process that required multiple pledges to the party and aimed to weed out less conservative applicants. The delegates voted by car at locations across the state in the decentralized convention process, in a departure from the process used during the 2017 primary, which was open to all registered voters at traditional polling places and involved 366,000 votes. The party has used both nomination methods in recent history.

The party argued the change was required to accommodate Governor Ralph Northam’s Covid-related executive orders, which limit the number of individuals allowed indoors. Some candidates argued the process was chosen in an effort to favor one candidate over another.

Candidates were knocked out in a total of five rounds before Youngkin got the 50% required to claim the win. The party approved a hand-counted process that took all day Monday to complete following Sunday’s day-long tally for Attorney General votes. Lieutenant governor votes will be counted Tuesday.  

Youngkin, who donated $5.5 million of his own money to his campaign, promised to spend more of his own wealth to get him into the governor’s mansion — and to support Republican delegates in down-ballot races around the state. Virginia Republicans haven’t won a statewide race since 2010 and has the state has pushed more left in the wake of Trump, who lost the state by 10 points last year. After gerrymandering in 2011, the Republican party lost control of the state’s House of Delegates for the first time in 20 years in 2019 and all 100 seats, many with first-time Republican candidates, are up for grabs this fall. 

Youngkin may still have to contend with Chase, who has not ruled out running as an independent after questioning the gubernatorial selection process for months. 

Chase sued the state Republican party over the nomination process and the state’s Democratic-controlled Senate after she was censured for speaking at Trump’s Stop The Steal rally. A state judge dismissed her challenge to the nomination process as too early but a federal judge has yet to rule in her second suit.

On Saturday, she said her observers were denied access at some polling locations and renewed her retracted offer to run as a third-party candidate.

“Clear corruption by RPV, I will not honor a pledge if the Party cannot run a fair process,” she tweeted on her preferred social media platform after she was banned from Facebook. Her name on the ballot would likely sink the right’s already meager hopes for success in the race.

On the campaign trail Youngkin offered a conservative businessman’s take on the party’s biggest platform. 

“Is anyone surprised that every name is being changed? That Dr. Seuss is being driven out of schools?” Youngkin said of efforts to remove Civil War statues and names of Confederate generals from state-owned buildings. If elected, Youngkin would reside in the governor’s mansion in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, which has recently seen the removal of dozens of monuments to the failed revolt.

In addition to pushing for voters needing two forms of ID to vote, Youngkin would also ask the state to require proof of citizenship before someone could cast a ballot. 

“What Trump taught us is when we have a rip-roaring economy it lifts everyone up,” he said of the former president before promising to reduce the cost of living by cutting taxes and government fees. 

“If it looks or smells like a tax increase I will veto it,” he told debate-watchers. “Our Commonwealth is in a ditch and the Democrats are pouring more dirt on it.” 

Youngkin will face-off against the winner of a June statewide Democratic Primary. According to polling from April, former Governor Terry McAullife is leading the pack but state Senator Jennifer McLellan, former Delegate Jennifer Carol Foy and a handful of other hopefuls could cause an upset. Democratic Socialist Lee Carter, who recently raised questions over the use of old district maps in the state’s 2021 House of Delegates races, and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax fills out the current Democratic offering. 

Lynchburg-area attorney and Youngkin voter Autumn Johnson was excited by his win. 

“The other candidates were either too Trumpy or too moderate for me,” she said before praising his Christian faith, a quality she considers highly when voting. 

Johnson also praised the rank choice voting method, saying she felt good knowing she could send her vote to certain candidates.

“It made me feel like my vote counted for more,” she said.

Two other statewide candidate races were on the ballot: attorney general and lieutenant governor. Virginia Beach Delegate Jason Miyares was selected as the winner in the AG race Sunday after three rounds of counting. 

“Over the last eight years we have seen what the scandal plagued Attorney General has tried to do to advance his personal political agenda and the voters of Virginia believe it’s time to restore honor to the office and bring a check and balance to state government,” said Miyares in a statement issued Monday after his win. 

The message is in line with the party’s cries for “law and order” following a scandal-ridden early parole release and a Democratic trifecta state government that approved an end of the of the death penalty and legal marijuana by mid-summer. 

Johnson said she voted for Miyares, and she appreciated his promise to base his term on his prosecutorial background, but she she also admitted she wasn’t that drawn to any one AG candidate.

“I think he has a great story and a unique experience that [will] help shape the GOP in the future,” she said.

Miyares will face-off against either incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring or Norfolk Delegate Jay Jones after the two take part in the same Democratic primary in June. 

The lieutenant governor’s race still needs to be counted, with results expected within the next day or two. 

In a statement following Saturday’s convention RPV Chairman Rich Anderson said the party “couldn’t be happier” with the convention process. 

“It is a promising sign of things to come that so many Republicans from across Virginia came out in record numbers and supported their candidates at the grassroots level,” he said. 

Virginia is one of two states — along with New Jersey — that holds statewide elections in 2021, giving both national attention as a barometer for the sitting president.

Virginia voters will pick their governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and House delegates come November.

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